A Church For All Nations The Redeemed Christian Church Of God

A Church For All Nations   The Redeemed Christian Church Of God

Click to join the conversation with over 500,000 Pentecostal believers and scholars

Click to get our FREE MOBILE APP and stay connected

| PentecostalTheology.com

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 24, No. 2, Fall 2002

“ A Church for All Nations” : The Redeemed Christian Church of God

Stephan Hunt

One of the most signiŽ cant developments within the broad Pentecostal movement has been the rise of independent African churches, especially those within a West African setting. The relevance of these churches is not merely that of a unique expression of African Christianity. Rather, their importance is that they constitute international ministries that have implications for the Pentecostal movement on a worldwide scale. This paper traces the rise of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), which is typical of others that have spread globally from Nigeria in terms of doctrines and praxis. It analyzes the church’ s success in terms of pro- found economic and social transformations taking place on the African continent, and considers its relevance by way of theology, organizational structure, and evangelizing strategies. The paper concludes that this new style of Pentecostalism is concomitant with the needs of particular social groups, and enculturates itself to the conditions not only of West Africa, but also of ethnic enclaves in a Western setting.

The Setting of Nigerian Pentecostalism

Adrian Hastings states that “ Black Africa today is totally inconceiv- able apart from the presence of Christianity, which a couple of genera- tions ago could not be unreasonably dismissed as fundamentally marginal and a mere subsidiary aspect of colonialism.”1 Within this context of con- temporary Christianity, Black African Pentecostalism is undoubtedly the dominant constituency and has enjoyed a rapid rate of growth over at least the last two decades. Pentecostalism in Africa today is not, however, the same movement that impacted on the continent in the 1920s and enjoyed a greater momentum since the 1950s. Indeed, it has continued to undergo far-reaching transformations. This is a result not only of dynam- ics within the movement itself across the continent, but also of broader social changes observable throughout the Black African nations since the early 1980s.

1

A. Hastings, “ Christianity in East Africa,” in Turning Points in Religious Studies , ed. U. King (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark; 1990), 194.

© 2002 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden

pp. 185– 204

1

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 24, No. 2, Fall 2002

In many ways the developments in the Nigerian churches epitomize these changes. Much as elsewhere, Pentecostalism originated in the coun- try with the denominational mission churches that were established by American and British ministries. This original group included the Faith Tabernacle, the Apostolic Church (both of which were connected to the Aladura movement),

2

the Assemblies of God in East Nigeria, and the Apostolic Faith churches in the West. These churches tended to be highly organized and strictly denominational. They were also distinguished by their teachings, which promoted a doctrine that stressed strict personal ethics, a retreat from the world and material possessions and practices, and were strongly Adventist in orientation. For this reason, such churches became known, at least in Nigeria’ s capital, Lagos, and other major cities, as “ holiness” or “ righteousness” churches.

The increased foreign missionary activity to Nigeria in the 1960s and 1970s helped spark a revival in a country that makes up one-sixth of the entire population of Africa. Together with increased student involvement, ministries from the West helped provide growth to the denominational Charismatic movement in the “ holiness” churches. This provided an impe- tus for the resurgence of Pentecostalism in the 1970s and 1980s that, in many ways, was different from that of previous decades in terms of the- ology, structure, and ethos.

3

In fact, the new wave of the movement often appeared so different that it has been labelled “ Charismatic” to distin- guish the newly emerging churches from those established earlier. This simple designation fails, however, to denote the complexity of the changes within African Pentecostalism. One of the most signiŽ cant has been the emergence of independent churches. Since the early 1980s thousands of new churches and ministries have grown up in the cities and urban areas in the overwhelmingly Christian south of the country. Beginning largely in the interdenominational student groups of the newly-formed Nigerian universities, this movement of independent churches and evangelizing ministries originally spread through the creation of small fellowships.

4

2

The Aldura movement explicitly blends Christianity with the traditional non-Christian beliefs 3 and practices of West Africa.

M. Ojo, “ ‘ Deeper Life Christian Ministry’ : A Case Study of the Charismatic Movement in Western Nigeria,” Journal of Religion in Africa 18, no. 2 (1988): 25. See also M. Ojo, “ The Contextual SigniŽ cance of the Charismatic Movements in Independent Nigeria,” Africa4 58, no. 2 (1987): 92-107.

R. Marshall, “ ‘ Power in the Name of Jesus’ : Social Transformation and Pentecostalism in Western Nigeria ‘ Revisited,’ ” in Legitimacy and the State in Twentieth-Century Africa: Essays in Honour of A. H. M. Kirk-Greene , ed. T. Ranger and O. Vaughan (Basingstoke, England: Macmillan, 1993), 217.

186

2

A Church for All Nations

There has been a tendency not just by scholars, but by religious lead- ers, to explain the rise of the independent churches largely with reference to their foreign origins and connections.

5

The reality is that many aspects of these expanding churches are genuinely “ home grown.” This is par- ticularly the case in Nigeria. According to the successive editions of Operation World ,6 the number of external Protestant missionaries in Black Africa has steadily increased. In the last two decades, however, the Nigerian government, because of political unrest, has been reluctant to grant for- eign Christian missionaries entry into the country. This policy largely results from the fear that widespread evangelism might agitate the in- creasing con ict between Christian and Muslim communities.

7

One of the principal repercussions for the Pentecostal movement in the country, therefore, is that the newly emerging independent churches have grown up freer of in uence from Western ministries than most African nations.

This fresh wave of Pentecostalism in Nigeria, as is observably the case elsewhere in Africa, is profoundly spiritual in its broadest sense. The spir- itual craving behind the movement is extraordinarily powerful. Its dynam- ics, in terms of changing lives through salvation and grace and through puriŽ cation and holiness, are the hallmarks of a movement that sees itself offering an untainted gospel message to Africa and beyond. Indeed, the missionary endeavor is a vital component of the new movement. African churches, many Nigerian, have crisscrossed the continent, breaking down national, ethnic, and tribal boundaries. The message preached is also directed much farther aŽ eld and the evangelizing impulse has taken some of the largest churches into North America, Europe and elsewhere as part of a process that might be described as a “ reverse proselytization.”

At the same time, the proliferation of the independent churches in Nigeria results from a unique range of social and economic changes. This tendency has been cogently explored by Ruth Marshall. She argues that, at a broad level, African societies have reworked the institutions and mes- sages of Christianity (as they have the institutions of the colonial and post-colonial state) in accordance with their own comprehension of their history and traditions.

8

Beyond that, Marshall suggests that it is pertinent

5

See, e.g., P. Gifford, “ ‘ Africa Shall be Saved’ : An Appraisal of Reinhard Bonnke’ s Pan-African 6 Crusade,” Journal of Religion in Africa 17, no. 1 (1987): 42-63.

P. Johnstone, Operation World (Carlise: OM Publishing, 3rd ed. 1978, 4th ed. 1986, 5th 7ed. 1993).

Most of the large new independent churches send missionaries to the north of the country to win Muslim converts. This caused considerable misgivings for the ruling mil- itary 8 regime that was in power until 1999.

Marshall, Power in the Name of Jesus , 214.

187

3

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 24, No. 2, Fall 2002

to take into account the more recent profound social economic changes experienced by the Nigerian population. At least in the southern cities of Nigeria, these changes have helped produce a theology and culture in the independent churches that are in many ways distinct from that of the Pentecostal movement elsewhere.

For Marshall, the new churches, above all, mark a popular response to the state policies of military dictatorship that ruled (until June 1999) alongside the nation’ s acute economic shortcomings since the early 1980s. Put succinctly, these churches provide new strategies of survival and the restructuring of personal and collective relationships against a backdrop of severe economic decline. Hence, they frequently offer symbolic and material resources to a number of distinct social groups in Nigeria and, at a practical level, establish new forms of social organization. They mark a response to the ever-changing difŽ culties, demands, and constraints of everyday existence-not only those engendered by the political state but the broader economic and social restrictions of everyday urban life. It fol- lows that the recent movement in Pentecostalism involves theology and practices that address issues related to the family, sexuality, health, wealth, and justice, as well as the economy, government, and the entrenchment of powerful social and political elites.

9

The Origins and Growth of the Redeemed Christian Church of God

While research has been conducted into the indigenous new religious movements in Nigeria, particularly focusing upon the Aladura churches of the west,

10

very little has appeared on the growth of the emerging inde- pendent churches within the broader Nigerian Pentecostal/Charismatic movement,11 in terms either of their origins or of their wider national and international reverberations. Hence, a report on one of the largest new independent churches, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, is appro- priate here. The RCCG has sustained considerable organizational and

9

10

Ibid., 215-16.

R. Hackett, “ The Symbols of Power Discourse Among Contemporary Religious Groups in West Africa,” in Religious Transformations and Socio-Political Change: Eastern Europe and Latin America , ed. L. Martin (New York: Mouton De Gruyter, 1993), 381- 406; R. Hackett, “ Some Recent Developments in African Christianity,” African Affairs 93 (1994): 11 514-34.

Besides her book Power in the Name of Jesus , Ruth Marshall’ s similarly named article “ Power in the Name of Jesus” is probably the best recent account ( Review of African Political Economy 52 [1991]: 21-37).

188

4

A Church for All Nations

numerical growth in Nigeria as well as in other African countries. It is by no means the only church enjoying success on both a national and global stage, but it does typify such churches in terms of its scale, orga- nization, and the distinct theology embraced. Moreover, it reinforces the observations of Marshall in that, to some degree at least, it re ects the turbulent times that Nigeria has experienced.

The RCCG was founded by Pa Josiah Akindayomi. Although baptized by the Church Missionary Society in 1927, Akindayomi’ s sense of spir- itual yearning led him to join the Cherubim and Seraphim Church in 1931. In his own account of conversion and call to pastorship he outlined the years of spiritual struggle resulting from his rejection of God’ s call to ministry. Seven years of failed personal business ventures followed that led to personal and spiritual crisis. According to the story now related by the RCCG, Akindayomi came to believe that he was being called to a special ministry. This sense of mission manifested itself in 1947 when he became concerned that the Cherubim and Seraphim Church was depart- ing from the true word of God in some of its practices. Five years later Akindayomi felt persuaded to leave the church and established a house fellowship in Lagos called the Glory of God Fellowship (“ Egbe Ogo Oluwa” ). An initial membership of nine members rapidly grew as news of miracles in the midst of this small circle spread. Akindayomi was soon after to claim a divine visitation with a vision of words written on a black- board— “ The Redeemed Christian Church of God.” Despite being unable to read or write, he believed that he was inspired to write these words down and establish an international missionary endeavor.

Under Akindayomi’ s tutelage the RCCG spread rapidly through Nigeria and began to establish congregations in other African countries. Pa Akindayomi claimed that some time in the early 1970s, God had spoken to him about his successor. This was allegedly conŽ rmed by a divine rev- elation in 1973 that he would be succeeded by a younger educated man. Akindayomi had written in his will that Enoch Adeboye was to succeed him as General Overseer of the RCCG. Adeboye has retained this posi- tion since 1980. As a Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics at Lagos University and with ambitions to become a vice-chancellor, Adeboye was very different from the founder of the RCCG,

12

and this proved to be signiŽ cant as the church expanded globally.

12

The signiŽ cance of university teachers in the new churches can be seen elsewhere. The most prominent example of the indigenous wave of holiness churches is the Deeper Life Bible Church. Started by a lecturer at UNILAG in the mid 1970s, it is now the largest church in the country, with over 250,000 members.

189

5

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 24, No. 2, Fall 2002

Adeboye claimed a conversion experience in 1973 and came to believe that God had called him to ministry. He was ordained as pastor of the church in 1975 but not without controversy and a certain amount of inter- nal church politics. Nonetheless, it has been under Adeboye that the RCCG has experienced its most proliŽ c growth. He established the current site of the headquarters in Lagos as well as the “ parishes” in Somulu, Bolumole, Idaban, and other regional headquarters before the church spread to other regions. Adeboye had begun these “ model parishes” or “ areas” in 1988, when Ikeja parish was established on Victoria Island in 1989 and Apapa in 1991. Of distinct organizational style, the parishes provided the locus for church “ plants” and evangelism that have been largely responsible for the rapid progress of the RCCG. Since 1981, some two thousand parishes have been established in Nigeria and approximately a further thousand worldwide. Many of those in Nigeria and elsewhere in West Africa are based around newly erected impressive church buildings. Indeed, much energy and fundraising is directed towards future large church construc- tions, which stand for a measure of status in Nigerian society.

13

The principal cornerstone of the growth of the RCCG is its Holy Ghost Festival (HGF). This amounts to a large scale evangelizing rally that has drawn increasingly larger crowds, brought wholesale conversions, and swelled the ranks of the church. Initially, the HGF was an all-night fes- tival of prayer and miracles held in March each year. Adeboye claims to have been divinely instructed to commence Holy Ghost Festivals in their present form. He relates that in 1986 God asked him what he wanted for his birthday, and his answer was a miracle for everyone at his church. He believes that God then commanded him to gather “ his children” in an all- night service that resulted in claims of blessings and miracles.

The HGF now takes place each month in Lagos, and there are local versions in other major towns. In the early 1990s, the event in the then- capital had been held in different venues. In 1993, because of the num- bers attending, the event became a weekend program, from Friday at 7 pm to 6 am Saturday. The success of the HGF led to its being held at increasingly larger venues, so that in February and December 1994 it took place at Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos. When audiences grew to 100,000 a new auditorium was built in the capital that doubled the capacity of the

13

This re ects the fact that land has always been a status symbol in precolonial African societies along with the growing symbolic importance given to religious buildings (D. Martin, Tongues of Fire : The Explosion of Pentecostalism in Latin America [Oxford: Latin America, 1995], 89).

190

6

A Church for All Nations

RCCG’ s main church. Thereafter, the HGF has occasionally been held outside the capital in such places as Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Akure, Eruwa, and Ibadan. In December 1995, the special annual festival moved to the National Stadium. Attendance Ž gures recorded there in 1996 were 220,000. Today, the annual festival is held at Lekki Beach, a site midway between Lagos and Ibadan. The event is now so large that it has attracted gov- ernment concern because of the trafŽ c jams that occur on the Lagos- Ibadan expressway. The average headcount of those who attend the service is about half a million, although the 1998 program, entitled “ Divine Visitation,” attracted nearly 6.5 million people.

In Nigeria, the monthly HGF has become probably the largest regular national event, with crowds of up to 300,000 people from different back- grounds. It is truly national in that many people from traditional churches attend, including bishops and denominational leaders as well as other notable Ž gures. The festival is covered by the media from all over the world and, according to the RCCG, is making Nigeria a Christian “ mecca.” For the RCCG these “ signs” are of great importance and are interpreted as having great national as well as spiritual signiŽ cance, in that God is said to be “ removing reproach from Nigeria as He uses the nation for end-time revival by making this country the greatest in the world.”14

Theological Orientation

With respect to theological orientation, the RCCG is typical of the emerging range of African independent churches. Nevertheless, there are some noteworthy aspects that predominantly result from the unique Nigerian cultural and sociopolitical context. Consequently, the theology is fairly uid and continues to develop as it has from the early 1980s. Beyond this simple observation it would be tempting to describe the theology as a blend of traditional Pentecostal Holiness and indigenous Nigerian religion— that is, both Christian and, to some extent, non-Christian along with some dogma originating from the so-called “ Faith movement” from the USA. This appraisal is, however, far too simplistic and does lit- tle justice to the complex theological nuances that have evolved. There may also be some stark global variations. Clearly, the core doctrines of the RCCG locate it within the broad Pentecostal family. Numerous mis- sion statements emphasise the “ born-again” element, the baptism in the Spirit, the signiŽ cance of the charismata, and the heavy emphasis on

14

(web pages, March 1999).

191

7

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 24, No. 2, Fall 2002

miracles and faith healing. The theology is also overtly fundamentalist, with a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.

15

The distinctly African doctrinal component is discernible in the RCCG and other similar churches in that it embraces a profound theological dual- ism that appears to re ect more primal forms of religion. A fairly well articulated demonology includes the belief that Christians can be affected by curses and that witches in Africa pray to break up Christian marriages. In addition, the tone of religious language is frequently that of triumph over evil. There is constant reference to spiritual battle, to victory over the adversary. This emphasis on spiritual warfare is also re ected in wor- ship. In the African context music is perceived to be a indication of spir- itual power. The theology of the RCCG is evident in its services in the loud volume and the chanting of the name of Jesus, since this is believed to empower worship and bring the blessings of God.

These apparently distinctly African theological elements have to be put into perspective. However, as Paul Gifford suggests, the newer Pente- costal churches, although they depend on primal concepts such as demonic deliverance, do not represent a bridge to traditional culture as the early churches once did.

16

Indeed, the main enemies of true Christianity, accord- ing to the new churches, are the previous connections with traditional Nigerian belief and ritual, for example, the Aladura churches and various forms of indigenous healing. There is also considerable condemnation of traditional Nigerian polygamy and the pagan and animistic expressions of primal religion. At the same time the widespread acceptance of Western religious literature may also be interpreted as a reaction against “ primi- tive heathenism” and is evident in the self-consciously “ modernist” and “ international” aspects at both the individual and the collective levels.

17 In addition, members of the new churches tend to wear Western dress and to listen to modern-style gospel music such as “ rap,” “ house,” and “ raga,” suitably adopted to Pentecostal themes. As we shall see below, these signs of Westernization are of particular relevance to the RCCG.

15

This brings the RCCG in line with the recent report on the history and theology of a group of independent African Churches written by the churches themselves that identiŽ es their uncritical and conservative approach to the Bible. The report is entitled African Independent Churches, Speaking for Ourselves : Members of African Independent Churches Report on their Pilot Study of the History and Theology of their Churches (Braamfontein: ICT, 161985), 26.

P. Gifford, African Christianity: Its Public Role (London: Hurst & Company, 1998), 334.17

Marshall, “ Power in the Name of Jesus,” 24.

192

8

A Church for All Nations

Along with other new churches, the RCCG is also strongly Adventist. This would seem to re ect the needs of a membership, many of whom live in dire poverty and social insecurity, and in so doing it follows a familiar pattern in Black theology. As J. Aldred notes, for those who live under oppression, prejudice, and acute economic conditions, the immi- nence of the kingdom of God and a denial of the material things of this world are appealing. In speciŽ c environments, therefore, Black theology has conceptualized and embraced a kingdom that offers both present and future hope of deliverance.

18

In the case of the RCCG, however, there is more to the equation. The church has increasingly attracted wealthier and more mobile social groups, and this has arguably led to a discernible con- cern for this world as much as the next.

In fact, the theology and ethos of the RCCG, like those of a number of other churches, appears to embrace neither an aggressive rejection or aggressive pursuit of material success with respect to their doctrinal and social base. This also re ects increasing cross-fertilization, since the early 1980s, between the older “ holiness” churches and the more contempo- rary independent variety. Many of the latter have attempted to model them- selves on the well-organized structure of the earlier “ holiness” churches. Likewise, some have moved closer to a holiness doctrine and a strong sense of purity. Conversely, many of the older “ holiness” churches have began to play down some of their strict rules governing many areas of life, especially those concerning modes of dress, the wearing of jewelry, and worldly entertainment, such as watching television and visiting the cinema. As far as the RCCG is concerned, the holiness element can be discerned in numerous publications, including Enoch Adeboye’ s book, Total SanctiŽ cation , which interprets holiness broadly as obedience to God and a signiŽ cant foundation in preparation for revival. Most con- gregations within the RCCG take this call to holiness extremely serious, and it is often observable not only in terms of lifestyles, but also in orga- nized periods of fasting and prayer, which may last weeks or even months.

Some commentators have rather misleadingly described the inde- pendent churches as a uniquely African manifestation of the global Pente- costal movement.

19

As we have seen, this is rather deceptive, since the new churches are double-coded in terms of theology and practice. Put succinctly, they contain elements of African religious and cultural traits

18

J. Aldred, “ Paradigms for a Black Theology in Britain,” Black Theology in Britain 2 (1999): 19 9-32.

See, e.g., H. Cox, Fire from Heaven (Reading, MA: Addison, 1990), 246.

193

9

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 24, No. 2, Fall 2002

alongside, and indeed integrated with, theological dogma from North America. As far as the latter is concerned, the most discernible in uence is the impact of the “ Faith movement” and its doctrines of health and prosperity. Nonetheless, this tendency must be seen within the context of the cultural and political backdrop of West Africa, much of which is again typiŽ ed by developments in Nigeria.

In parts of Africa the American Faith ministries have achieved a spectacular advance, particularly in countries in which the contours of Christianity had already been hewn out by nineteenth-century missionary endeavours. In nations like Kenya, the growth of the Faith churches has overtaken the neo-Pentecostal renewal movement and has mutated and supplemented the Pentecostal teachings that had swept through local com- munities. In this way the Faith gospel now characterizes many Charismatic churches in Africa, with teachings ranging from those inspired by Hagin and Copeland to the more extreme doctrines of John Avanazi.

20

Prosperity teachings are important to such churches as the RCCG. To some extent this marks the early student involvement in the growth of the independent churches and their early in uence by the increased activ- ity of the American Faith movement in the 1970s and early 1980s. Thereafter, rather than advocating a retreat from the world, the pastors of the new Pentecostal churches in Nigeria and elsewhere in West Africa came gradually to adopt prosperity doctrines.

21

To some degree this re- ects the fact that church leaders have frequently come to have access to new, large sources of capital, either from their own personal wealth or made disposable through tithes. At the same time, the doctrine of pros- perity has enabled the legitimation of wealth for some of the more well- heeled members.

22

Books by Copeland, Hagin, and others may be sold in the bookstalls of the larger RCCG churches, while some church pastors frequently visit the conventions of the more prominent Faith ministries. Prosperity and health through faith is not, however, particularly re ected in the theology of the RCCG. While the health and wealth element exists, the RCCG’ s theological emphasis owes as much to internal cultural dynamics and recent social and economic developments as to the in uence of the U.S.A.- style Faith gospel. The reality is that the forced decline in Western mis-

20

21

Gifford, African Christianity , 39-44.

22

Ibid., 334-36.

In the commercial centers men wealthy by the standards of any modern country have emerged, many of whom have never received a formal education and who have never held political or administrative posts.

194

10

A Church for All Nations

sionary activities meant that the independent churches grew up free of Western in uences and were less likely to assimilate rigourously the teach- ings of the Faith ministries that have come to be so prevalent in other parts of Africa. There had also been a measure of con ict with the older “ holiness” churches over prosperity doctrines. The principal charge was that the new churches were too materialistic and worldly. This was to lead to a diluting of the doctrine in the new independent churches.

With regard to the Nigerian version of the prosperity teachings, other signiŽ cant considerations have a bearing on their place within the theol- ogy of the RCCG. First, the core doctrines are not related to instant pros- perity through faith, but are more bound up with a work and success ethic. Paul Freston sees prosperity theology as essentially negating the Protestant work ethic. The Faith gospel places no emphasis on investment; it sepa- rates wealth and salvation and thus lacks the psychological mechanism that supposedly impelled the Puritan in his rational search for prosperity. In short, wealth is simply achieved through faith rather than by hard work and ambition.

23

In contrast, the RCCG stresses Ž nance and prosperity, but far more in terms of management of monies than by any simple formula of “ health and wealth” through faith. Hence, seminars, teachings, and more practical assistance tend to be directed toward helping members deal with debt and control of Ž nances. Much of this ethos is clear in this extract from a RCCG teaching cassette:

Getting out of circumstances means learning how to Ž ght effectively . . . the Ž ght, the war, the weapons we are using, and the battle is primarily against those things warring in our soul, our mind. What gets us into trouble is our minds. . . . It takes a tough mental attitude . . . you need to be a Ž ghter.”24

The spread of prosperity teaching has often been interpreted as the exportation of USA culture.

25

However, the RCCG emphasis on pros- perity originates as much from the cultural traditions and ethos of the major Nigerian tribal groups as it does from North America. In terms of cultural attributes the prosperity doctrine can be said to arise substantially from the core values of the Yoruba and Igbo peoples (traditionally the “ Christianized” tribes) who largely constitute the membership of the RCCG. Traditionally, for the Yoruba and Igbo, savings and wealth gained

23

P. Freston, Pentecostalism in Brazil : a Brief History (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University 24 Press, 1996).

25

Audio Cassette, RCCG, undated.

For example, P. Gifford, “ Prosperity: A New and Foreign Element in African Christianity,” Religion, 20, no. 1 (1994): 373-88.

195

11

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 24, No. 2, Fall 2002

in the expanding towns translated into social patronage. The mission schools, however, provided the education for worldly success at a more individual level and tended to erode patronage and familial obligations.

For many decades the Igbo have particularly accented the status and prestige to be gained by individual achievement and facilitated by acquired wealth. Hence, there developed a great deal of emphasis on opportunism and merit-based success. The Igbo readily took to Christianity, especially in its Anglican and Roman Catholic forms, although Pentecostal churches have attracted a large number in recent years. In much the same way the Yoruba are a highly heterogeneous ethnic group with a wide variety of dialects and forms of social organization. They are renowned for fac- tionism and for their entrepreneurial and political drive. Lagos is consid- ered part of the Yoruba homeland and has been largely shaped by Yoruba migrants.26 As has been noted, the Nigerians, and the Yoruba in particu- lar, do not distinguish strongly between spiritual and other forms of power.27 Given the Yoruba dominance in the RCCG, it is not surprising that spirituality merges with economic and social power. Hence, the concern with prosperity is intimately related to the power to in uence and change personal and collective lifestyles and conditions through the prism of evangelical and Charismatic Christianity.

There is also a link between prosperity and purity. At one level the RCCG’ s emphasis on purity also re ects the cultural preferences of the Yoruba and Igbo peoples. These include a concern with virtue, “ whole- some human relations,” strict marital Ž delity, altruism, and hospitality on the one hand, and a strong condemnation of idleness, theft, and sexual promiscuity on the other.

28

At the same time these virtues, which are also valued in biblical ethics, contrast starkly to the widespread immorality that is said to have infected Nigerian life over the last two decades as a result of economic insecurities. The continued notoriety of corruption at every level in the state in political and military institutions, and in the business elite has passed down to all areas of civic administration. Hence, as Nigerian secular writers have observed, theft, corruption, and sexual sin are rampant in Nigerian life, from the lowest social strata to the highest.

29

The implications of Nigerian-style, prosperity teaching, come into clear relief. Economic decline has precipitated the growth of such doctrines in

26

27

M. Peil, Lagos: The City is the People (London: Belhaven Press, 1991), 3. 28

Gifford, African Christianity.

29

E. Amadi, Ethics in Nigerian Culture (Ibadan: Heinemann, 1982), 52.

A. Achebe, The Trouble with Nigeria (London: Heinemann, 1983), esp. chap. 7.

196

12

A Church for All Nations

that they may re ect the increasing need to be frugal and provide an ethic of accumulation against the economic ravages since the early 1980s. The 1970s were a period of rapid although uneven economic expansion based on oil revenues. Yet, this was also a time of massive misappropriation of government funds at practically every level. These years of relative pros- perity came to a halt in 1981 with the collapse of oil prices. Unemployment, rampant in ation, and scarcity followed. The per capita income in 1993 was only one-tenth of what it was eight years earlier.

30

The Nigerian state’ s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), introduced in 1986 further increased hardship in the cities, with massive retrenchment and devastating price increases. Thus, the rapid growth of the new indepen- dent churches came at a time of acute economic and political difŽ culties in Nigeria.

Against this backdrop of economic and moral decline the new churches, including the RCCG, preached their purity and prosperity doctrines. For the RCCG, the teachings of prosperity are played out in relation to the concept of “ covenant.” This idea of covenant was in fact very important to Pa Akindayomi-that all the needs of the church, at both the collective and individual level, would be met if the members were pure, faithful, and obedient to God. Implicit in his teachings was the insistence that the spiritual and material fortunes of a believer depend on how much they gave spiritually and materially to God and the church. Adeboye has con- tinued to stress similar themes. He sees an essential link between holi- ness and health and prosperity that he describes in his book, Holiness, in this way:

When you are holy you will become like God so you will not need to pray for healing. God can never fall ill so you can never fall ill. The root cause of all illness is sin. If you live holy you will not need to pray for prosper- ity. . . . when your soul is prospering, your health and wealth will also pros- per. This is the will of God, above all things for you.

31

Membership Composition and Organization

In many ways the membership composition of the RCCG is not that dissimilar from other new independent churches in Nigeria. The older “ holiness” churches traditionally drew their support largely from the illit- erate or semiliterate poor, such as laborers and other manual groups. While

30

31

The Economist , 21 August 1993, 14.

E. Adeboye, Holiness (Lagos: RCCG, 1997), 12-13.

197

13

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 24, No. 2, Fall 2002

the independent churches also draw a sizeable membership from these socioeconomic groups, they have come to attract the more af uent and socially mobile urban groups derived from government administration and the professional classes. Certainly, there is a more educated component, comprised of students and university and school teachers, from which those in leadership positions are frequently drawn.

32

The revival experi- enced in the older “ holiness” churches in the 1960s also increasingly incorporated the interests and outlooks of a younger group. This was even more the case in the later independent churches, in which student involve- ment in the early years helped ensure that the fresh movement incorpo- rated young people, some of whom became pastors of large congregations.

33

Whatever the composition, it is evident that churches such as the RCCG can weld their membership into a collective that embraces a keen sense of community and supplements the increasing tendency toward individ- ualism in Nigerian society. Since the early 1980s, at the global level, the broad bulk of believers of these churches regard themselves not only as members of their own church or ministry, but as part of a unique move- ment whose identity and unity is aggressively dedicated to a national and international evangelizing endeavor. This is evident in the emergence, in the late 1980s, of umbrella associations. Much is exempliŽ ed by the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), which constitutes an attempt to institutionalize this sense of community. RCCG is actively involved in the PFN through arranging forums and conferences on numerous areas of mutual interest.

The leading sociologist of the Pentecostal movement, David Martin, has described the African churches as providing a voluntary, lay, partic- ipatory, and enthusiastic faith alongside a search for community that involves an implicit egalitarianism and self-help ethic.

34

Hence, such churches can be seen as voluntary associations based on egalitarian prin- ciples with a new organizational style, in which people Ž nd shelter, sol- idarity and psychological security.

35

Many of these characteristics can be found in the RCCG and similar churches.

32

This highly educated elite is in fact a very small proportion of the total population. In contemporary Nigeria entry into the administrative class of the public service normally requires university education; a majority of the direct entrants will be holders of univer- sity 33or professional degrees.

34

Gifford, African Christianity , 516.

D. Martin, “ Faiths Escaping the Hierarchies,” Times Literary Supplement , 18 December 35 1992, 22.

Ibid., 20-21.

198

14

A Church for All Nations

Again typical of similar churches, it is apparent that in the RCCG an attempt exists to blur the often stark social distinctions of its member- ship. Tribal afŽ liation is the most obvious. This echoes the fact that racial and tribal discrimination has undoubtedly proved the gravest threat to Nigerian unity and successive governments have denounced it tirelessly.

36 Many RCCG fellowships preach strongly against an unhealthy loyalty to the tribe, whether Igbo, Yoruba, or other smaller tribal groupings. Similarly, they play down the distinctions in social status according to economic and occupational position (this is contrary to the traditional pronounced respect for social status found particularly among the Yoruba people). Hence, an egalitarianism is presents symbolized by a frequent designation of members as “ brother” or “ sister” to a greater degree than might be expected in the typical Pentecostal congregation. Just as signiŽ cant is the breaking with past loyalties by minimizing social distinction according to age. The new churches frequently observe that they need to break with some traditional codes of behavior, which includes exaggerated deference to and misguided respect for the elderly and their traditional authority.

This egalitarianism ethos is, to some extent at least, extended to females. Traditional African Pentecostalism has typically promoted a doctrine that advocates the submission of women to men and their conŽ nement to the domestic sphere. The “ holiness” churches also had very strict edicts about women’ s dress and usually conŽ ned women to the lower levels of church administration. The new Nigerian churches do not have these clear restric- tions even if pastors are almost exclusively male. Although the family is stressed as the woman’ s primary responsibility, the typical endorsement of the withdrawal of women from the workplace found in established Pentecostal churches is not so evident.

Cutting across this egalitarian orientation is the tendency for many churches such as the RCCG to be highly structured and to have a strongly hierarchical ediŽ ce pastored by respected authoritarian and charismatic leaders. A sizeable number are former university teachers. Since this pro- fessional group traditionally held a greater social status in Africa than practically anywhere else in the world, their authority among the con- gregations is considerable.

37

Despite the emphasis upon strong leadership, however, there are signiŽ cant opportunities to rise to prominent church positions. The foundation for ascending through the levels of the church hierarchy depends largely on the demonstration of purity, loyalty to the

36

37

Amadi, Ethics in Nigerian Culture , 66.

Peil, Lagos, 128.

199

15

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 24, No. 2, Fall 2002

church and local fellowship, and possession of the charismata and other indications of God’ s blessing, rather than on age or wealth, which were the traditional markers of status in Nigerian society.

Lay participation is also evident in the running of the church. In the RCCG congregations a sizeable amount of church administration and pas- toral care is deemed to be the responsibility of part-time, male and female lay volunteers. Many RCCG churches set up nurseries and kindergartens and for several years provided medical services (usually faith healing) at “ faith clinics.” Members also hold neighborhood prayer groups, not only to encourage each other in faith, but to provide practical aid in times of sickness, help for Ž nancial problems, and child minding, while the churches offer counseling services. Individual churches also sponsor individuals in a variety of educational and business endeavors related most often to the running and propagation of the church and its assets-transportation, pub- lishing, crafts, and trades. In some ways this lay participation in the church has built upon traditional structures. Particularly in urban areas, most indi- vidual Nigerians have come to belong to ethnically homogeneous asso- ciations that provide an active social life with people of similar interest and mutual support in times of crisis.

38

Ruth Marshall, however, sees their increasing importance as a conscious pride in “ self-help” activities, which indicates not only the ability of these communities to develop institutional alternatives to social services not provided by the state, but an increas- ing attempt at self-assertion.

39

The RCCG in a Global Context

The RCCG is zealously evangelical. This can be measured in terms of its rapid global spread. In January 1997, the RCCG could boast 300,000 afŽ liated members. In November 1997, this had risen to around 420,000, in December 1997 to 500,000, and close to one million in January 1998. Membership of the church has now increased at such a rate that it is difŽ cult to provide an estimate. Although church membership returns are not always accurate, it is possible that at the beginning of the twenty-Ž rst century the church could claim around two million members globally. It is also clear that the RCCG has grown to be a truly international church.

40

38

39

Ibid., 36.

40

Marshall, Power in the Name of Jesus , 225.

Adeboye has continued to emphasize that no modiŽ er like “ International” or “ Worldwide” should be added to the name of the RCCG because it would take the glory away from God.

200

16

A Church for All Nations

The systematic attempt to “ plant” churches is largely conducted from indi- vidual parishes in Nigeria rather than through existing RCCG churches in any given country. Hence, every church in the U.S.A., Europe, and Africa has probably been established by the large churches in Lagos or other large urban areas in Nigeria.

Obviously, given the theology and cultural attributes of the RCCG, it has principally attracted the populations of other African countries. Hence, churches have been planted in Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zaire and Zambia. In some countries the RCCG has established Bible colleges to serve particular regions of Africa. For example, one in Zambia has been created to minister to central Africa. In the African coun- tries the RCCG, although perhaps less than other new churches, frequently set itself up in strong opposition to orthodox denominations, especially the Roman Catholic Church, which are often deemed to be in need of spiritual renewal and regeneration.

41

Farther aŽ eld, the RCCG is represented in Hong Kong, India, and the Caribbean states of Haiti and Jamaica. In the USA, there are parishes in Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York, Tallahassee, and Washington. The church has also met with considerable success in Europe, including Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, and Holland. Given the historical colonial connections between Nigeria and Britain it is perhaps not too surprising that the RCCG has one of its largest representations outside of Africa in the latter.

42

In 1985, the RCCG established its Ž rst church in Britain with just four people at the Ž rst service. Now there are some Ž fty churches in the largest towns and cities of England.

43

The proliŽ c worldwide growth of the RCCG is partly due to its delib- erate evangelizing strategies. The most successful of these merit some consideration. The churches place a great deal of emphasis upon the large-scale output of inspirational literature, whether tracts, booklets, or conversion narratives. Fairly recently the RCCG has created its own world- wide web page and, in 1998, video and audio capabilities were added to this. More systematically, a number of evangelizing programs have been

41

For their part, orthodox churches in many of these African nations are reacting to the alarming exodus of their members by simultaneously incorporating Pentecostal ele- ments 42 into their services.

The largest congregation is that of Jesus House in London. Adeboye sees London as having 43 a signiŽ cant role in the expected forthcoming revival in Europe.

Two thousand pastors were ordained by the church in 1996, thirty-one of them in London.

201

17

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 24, No. 2, Fall 2002

established. The most obvious is the Holy Ghost Festival, which has proved to be a model emulated across the world. In addition to this, allegedly as a result of a prophecy at a Kenneth Hagin convention, Adeboye began an evangelizing initiative called “ Digging Deep.” This enterprise centers on a Bible-study program in which people invite associates who, if converted, bring others, and so on. This type of strategy was also prag- matic, since the leadership of the RCCG has come to acknowledge that many of its fresh converts are won through establishing networks of fam- ily and friends rather than through “ cold” evangelizing.

44

These two pro- grams gave the RCCG considerable exposure since nonmembers could attend while still claiming membership in different denominations.

Another strategy devised by Adeboye, again exploiting social networks, has been the drive to launch the numerous ministries that now form an integral part of the church’ s life. Among these are the Redemption Television Ministry, the Prisons Ministry, and the Bus Evangelism Ministry. Many such ministries focus upon the proselytization of particular social groups in Nigeria, a strategy emulated in the RCCG’ s churches across the world. Typical is the so-called Christ the Redeemer’ s Friends Universal (CRFU). The CRFU draws its members from the top echelons of Nigerian soci- ety: government, business, academic, and so forth. Here the goal is for individual members of the RCCG to reach their peers in a particular voca- tion and to bring them to Christ.

Conclusion

This paper has attempted to present insights into the origin and growth of Nigerian independent Pentecostal churches with reference to the Redeemed Christian Church of God. It is clear that at the beginning of the twenty-Ž rst century the signiŽ cance of such churches cannot be overestimated. In terms of the relevance to the broader Pentecostal movement, those churches comprised of people of African descent demon- strate a certain kind of religious orientation as the result of the meet- ing of African and European cultures. Beyond this, they may be viewed as a product of quite speciŽ c social and economic conditions of the last two decades.

There is also another dimension. The signiŽ cance of new African churches such as the RCCG in “ planting” churches on foreign shores is

44

“ Digging Deep” replaced the “ Faith Clinic” program that was set up in 1980.

202

18

A Church for All Nations

not signiŽ cantly documented. Noteworthy research has been conducted into Black Pentecostal churches, African as well as Caribbean in Western societies.45 Some of this research has concentrated upon the unique the- ological contribution of Black Pentecostalism. Other investigations have taken a sociological stance and have focused upon the role and function of such churches for underprivileged Black communities in providing social support, a sense of identity and a living Christian faith for those stigmatized by white denominations.

46

Much research has still to be conducted into one of the fastest grow- ing Christian movements in the world, however. Tentative research in my own “ work in progress” in Britain indicates that much is congruent with some of the identiŽ able dynamics of globalization, in which religions are generally affected by the ebb and ow of international dynamics and are subjected to regional cultural variations or what might be called “ local- ization.”47 In the case of Britain, such ethnic-based Pentecostal-style churches as the RCCG constitute possibly the fastest growing sector not only of neo-Pentecostalism but probably of any form of religion. As part of the wider renewal movement these churches are outstripping the congregations of the older Caribbean Pentecostal churches and are over- taking the largely stagnant white middle-class denominational and inde- pendent churches.

As largely Black congregations in Britain, the RCCG does not appear to be catering for the needs of an impoverished, marginalized social group. Frequently, they are a focus of identity and belonging for the Nigerian community. More than that, however, the membership does not predom- inantly typify Nigerians in either Britain or Nigeria. Success has depended not only on a resurgence based upon spiritual revival but on distinct social changes and economic factors that have had repercussions in both coun- tries. At the same time, earnest attempts have been made to integrate with the wider renewal movement and to work constructively with British

45

P. Kalilombe “ Black Christianity in Britain,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 20, no. 2 (1997): 46 306-24.

For example, C. Hill, West Indian Migrants and the London Churches (London: Oxford University Press, 1963); E. Lincoln and L. Mamiy, The Black Churches in the African Experience (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990); H. Nelson and A. Nelson, Black 47 Churches in the 60s (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1975).

S. Hunt and N. Lighty, “ The British Black Pentecostal Revival: Identity and Belief in the New Nigerian Churches,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 24, no. 1 (2001): 104-24; “ Neither Here Nor There: The Construction of Identities and Boundary Maintenance of West African Pentecostals,” Sociology (forthcoming).

203

19

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 24, No. 2, Fall 2002

churches, both denominational and independent. Moreover, it is clear that the churches of the RCCG do evangelize outside their ethnic enclaves and earnestly seek to integrate white converts into their congregations. In the hope of renewal then, the RCCG remains, in its own words, “ A Church for All Nations.”

204

20

Facebook Comments

Be first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.